Arrowtown is famous around the world for its beautifully preserved historic aesthetic, the autumn colour and the stunning natural surroundings. But it also has a less positive reputation – in winter the air pollution can be the worst in New Zealand, indeed the whole Southern Hemisphere.
Being nestled against Tobins Face, Arrowtown's topography prevents smoke from clearing effectively. On a still night it just hangs around, most often in the east below Devon Street and over the river. You need step outside for only a moment or welcome your cat in from the evening cold to detect the smoke on your clothes and their fur.
The data backs up what we can all sense around us: PM10 smoke particles peak overnight, indicating that home heating is the major cause. PM10 particles are smaller than 10 micrometers (µm) in diameter and have a number of health impacts including respiratory diseases, heart attacks and lung cancer, with children especially vulnerable. PM10 levels ≥50 µg/m³ on a 24-hour average breach national standards: this has happened 14 times already this year, with much of winter still to come.
Exceeding these levels has been a regular occurrence in Arrowtown for many years, and it happens because people are still using old, inefficient wood burners or even open fires – and/or using unsuitable fuel.
What can you do?
A wood burner, no matter how modern, will always put some pollutants into the air. However a hot fire using dry firewood will produce less smoke with less particulate matter. If you see dirty smoke coming from your chimney, it’s a sign your fire isn’t burning efficiently or you’re burning something toxic. Both result in releasing pollutants into the air we all breathe.
Here's how you can help:
- Replace your older model wood burner or open fire with another form of heating, eg a heat pump.
- Burn only dry firewood or paper. You'll get more heat from each piece of firewood, warming your home more quickly and cheaply.
- Don't reduce the air supply until the fire is well established. A smouldering fire is a major cause of pollution.
- Do not burn rubbish, unseasoned wood, treated wood, offcuts from building sites, old decking, green waste or plastic.
- Store your firewood slightly off the ground, out of the rain and with plenty of airflow and sunshine if possible.
- Check your firewood is dry before burning it. You can borrow a moisture meter from the AVA for a $20 returnable deposit. Please contact email@example.com to check your wood pile.
- Let your neighbours know if you regularly see dirty smoke coming from their chimney. Alternatively report excessive smoke via the ORC Pollution Hotline or call 0800 800 033. Or install the Snap Send Solve app on your phone and report that way.
You can learn more and view real-time air quality data visit the LAWA website.